Excerpt from Work in ProgressPosted on 2004.05.21 at 16:19
Complin-The Psalm of the Desert Father
I sought out the driest of lands, those red and ochre, burned white and thirsty. I sought out the sermons of the saguaro and the yucca bell. I went deep into the waterless earth, the Lakeless air—in the yellow silt I broke open my skull, and four black opals spilled onto the rock.
Each held a clemency I could not touch, each whispered of purification and hands cleansed of the imprint of her body. Each reflected my face a hundred times, the hundred Lancelot-selves which I cam e to bury, the watery proliferation of mirrors I could no longer believe would bear my weight. I gathered up the stones in my arms and cradled them like daughters, daughters I never had, daughters with her hair like cat’s pelts, thick with their wild scents.
The sun told me a lie, and the lie told me a hymn, and the hymn told me that I belonged to the earth alone. The moon told me a riddle, and the riddle told me a rhyme, and the rhyme told me that only the white sage could heal me, the eating of smoke and darkness. The Mojave opened up to my limbs like a box of secrets, and I went to ground believing in absolution.
The rocks know our story, I do not even have to say our names and they know my sin, they know that there has never been a creature I loved that I did not betray. Ah, but even these red and riotous stones I see through the sick-silvern veil of my mother’s skin, they ripple under her water and I am trying, trying, to empty myself of this liquid horror, to exorcise myself in the heat and bleach-dry bones. Can I never escape these endless bodies, bodies I have entered like a mendicant, asking only for a shower of coins from their eyes, the lustral basins of their throats in which my poor forehead pressed—can I never escape the bodies I have possessed, the plague of hers which were the objects of my aiming? I went to the waterless lands and still I saw the shore.
I stood on a pole in the desert, and the afterimage of it flashed forwards and backwards, a pin holding a chain of like-footed martyr-lunatics trying to fit the sun into their mouths. If I stand very, very still, and never come down until the coming of the sea, I will be pure again, the wind will move through me like a hand, it will curl up in the cathedral of my skeleton and sing choruses to itself, it will rest in me and breathe, and breathe, and breathe. If I let my flesh wither to air, I will not be the sword or the lover-destroyer, I will be the saint of the ways, I will be forgotten and the world will close behind me like a drawn curtain. He will smile at her again, and she will laugh like autumn fading. I am the grey-blue stain between them, and if I go, if I go, if I stand and stand and do not move, it will be as if I never came.
It is so clear, the glare of light in the desert, the holy emanations of adobe huts and turquoise ring-traders, the desperate clenching of skin against the sand, the divinatory mesas with their pyre-colors. The red crumble of it, studded with those night-blue stones like a spray of seraphic blood—the jewels which have rolled from the skulls of all the mad saints who lost their names in this place, this desert which is all deserts, and if I am good enough, if I am empty enough, it will take my name, too.
This is the end of the world. I tasted the dust and it was an undoing, and all the wine of the earth became water. I have come as far as I can, there is nothing for me beyond this. The grail was her waist in my hands, and now the cup will never pass to me, except that I touched its rim when I spilled a son into a needled womb, except that I lit with the tongue of that white-haired girl the twelfth star in the crown of heaven.
The open rock begs for rain, and I am a ghost of cloud and salt—I wanted nothing, I swear, I meant only to embrace the mindless loyal sol invictus blaze of man and gold, I meant to me stupid and mute like all the other men adoring his light. But the moon is the ruin of me, it always grins, its landscape terrible and sere, knowing it holds my by the screaming navel, and her apocalyptic touch woke me into shadow, gave me refuge from the topaz sheen of his nodding head, and I was in the Lake again, cool against the belly of a black-eyed mother.
But help me now, help me, wheel of fire, burn me white and chaste and empty of all things but the red rock and the turquoise, make my bones translucent, fill me with light and I will be the spear instead of the cup, I will be tipped in oil and pointed ever skyward, I will stand still as a temple, only take this away, take her away, take all the hers from my tongue, I will never utter the word again, take it, take me, let me become the skull of a buffalo and the teeth of a flat-footed hare.
Yea though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death I will fear, I will fear and fall, I tremble in the shadowless weeds, I will know nothing but the emptying of my body, the liquefaction of my cyanic organs, the flagellation of my scalded back, for whosoever drinketh from me will inherit a throat of clay and dust, and whosoever eateth from my body will not die, but burn forever in the desert of the lost, and the sun will not forgive.